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February! SOIL & SEED Month!

Please see February 2010 for tips on aphids/white flies, slugs/snails, gophers, soil, seed starting basics! 

When there are warm days, it is ever so tempting to plant up summer veggies!  Don’t do it.  Not yet.  Start seeds. 

Depending on how much space you have, plant a last round of your very favorite winter crops – lettuces, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, kale, kohlrabi, potatoes, radishes, turnips.  Bare-root asparagus and artichokes.  I forgot to tell you last month, you could start zucchini!  At Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden we had an elder gardener who always started his in January, early February, and had great zucchini way before everyone else!  Other than zuchs, really look at those days to maturity, and add the number of days you expect for harvest duration.  If you plant a long maturing plant that would be harvested for some time, think if you would rather have that space for an early round of a summer veggie you love more.  Choose mildew and disease resistant varieties for your late peas.  

Keep sidedressing your producing plants, protect your tasty lettuces from slugs and snails.  Keep watch for aphids, and, if you disturb your plant and a little cloud of white things fly off, you have white flies.  Spray those little buggers off asap so they don’t spread to your other plants or someone else’s!  Keep up with your harvesting.  Wait until it warms up some more to prune frost damaged plants.  Even wait until next month to fertilize.  

But do prepare your soil for March summer veggie planting.  Dig if you must – I’m a no-dig, no weed person who leaves the living soil structure intact [see Gaia’s Garden, 2nd edition, chapter on soil].  Instead, prepare your soil by layering good stuff on top, called Lasagna Gardening, sheet composting, composting in place, or on-the-ground composting!  Garden smart!  If it is already there, you don’t have to move it from the compost pile to where it is needed!  Build your soil in place or in your new raised beds!  If you are putting raised beds on top of your lawn, lay down several layers of heavy cardboard first, to stop the grass and weeds, thoroughly soak it, then layer, layer, layer!  When they get there, your plant’s roots will easily poke their way through the cardboard.  Definitely attach gopher proof wire mesh to the bottom of your raised bed frame before you start filling it, unless you are creating your garden on top of concrete or a roof.  If you are container gardening, check out Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces: A Layering System for Big Results in Small Gardens and Containers: Garden in Inches, Not Acres. 

Healthy layering should be 2 dry/Carbon to 1 wet/Nitrogen. 

Carbon – carbon-rich matter (like branches, stems, dried leaves, peels, bits of wood, bark dust or sawdust, shredded brown paper bags, coffee filters, conifer needles, egg shells, hay, peat moss, wood ash) gives compost its light, fluffy body.
Nitrogen – nitrogen or protein-rich matter (manures, food scraps, leafy materials like lawn clippings and green leaves) provides raw materials for making enzymes. 

  • Lay twigs or straw first, a few inches deep. This aids drainage and helps aerate the pile.
  • ADD dry materials – straw, leaves and wood ashes. If you have wood ashes, sprinkle in thin layers, or they will clump together and be slow to break down.  Fine chopped, smaller materials decompose faster.
  • Lay on manure, green manure ( clover, buckwheat, wheatgrass ) or any nitrogen source. This activates the compost pile and speeds the process along.  Put on rinsed seaweed for minerals, scatter some yarrow sprigs to further speed decomposition, and, of course, your kitchen food waste. 
  • Think how that pile is going to decompose lower and lower.  Build enough layers to get the amount of soil you need.  Could be 18” high.
  • If you like, sprinkle some microbe rich topsoil over it all to ‘inoculate’ with living soil organisms that will immediately go to work.  Add a few handfuls of red wriggler compost worms.  Add any other amendments that make you happy.
  • Install some pathways.  Don’t walk on your oxygen rich breathing brew and squeeze the life out of it, or crush your worms and soil structure!  Keep things fluffy for good soil aeration and water absorption.   
  • If you need to, for aesthetic reasons, cover the compost with a pretty mulch that will break down slowly.  Spread it aside when you are ready to plant.  It could be down leaves; if you need your soil in that area to be slightly acidic, cover with pine needles (strawberries).
  • If things get stinky, add more carbon.
  • You want to plant NOW, or the same day you layer?  Can do!  Or your instant soil wasn’t so instant?  OK, here’s the instant remedy.  Make planting holes in your layers, put in some compost you purchased or have on hand, mycorrhizal fungi, and plant!  The rest will catch up, and the heat from the composting material underneath will warm your plants!  You WILL have a fine garden!  

If you do also need a traditional compost pile for spot needs, consider “No-turn” composting!  The biggest chore with composting is turning the pile from time to time. However, with ‘no-turn composting’, your compost can be aerated without turning.  The secret is to thoroughly mix in enough coarse material, like straw – little air tubes, when building the pile. The compost will develop as fast as if it were turned regularly, and studies show that the nitrogen level may be even higher than turned compost.  With ‘no-turn’ composting, add new materials to the top of the pile, and harvest fresh compost from the bottom of the bin.

So here are 3 ways to save garden time and your back!  1)  No digging!  2)  Compost in place, no moving it.  3) No compost turning!  Uh huh.

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June blooms mean tasty veggies!

The first tomatoes have now been eaten at Pilgrim Terrace Community Garden, and one bell pepper!

June is not so much a planting month as a maintenance month and getting those first veggies!  You can continue to plant more rounds of your summer plants, especially the ones that don’t have continuous production like indeterminate tomatoes that will produce all season long.  Stoke up your soil, replace plants that didn’t make it, that are done already – mature or bolted chard, cilantro, lettuce, arugula, beets, or are ailing. 

Special Strawberry Tips!  Don’t let them dry out, they will stop producing.  Mulching is good.  This month they tend to grow more leaves, send out runners.  Clip off the runners for now, later we will let them grow.  Give your strawberries a little fertilizer in the 0-10-10 proportions; that’s phosphorus and potassium for strong roots and uptake of nutrients, blooms and fruits!  They love pine needle mulch, if you have some about, because they prefer slightly acidic soil.  Use the  cones to drape your berries over to keep them off the ground, away from chewing creatures. 

Same as last month….

Water deeply, specially as each plant needs.  That’s more frequently for short rooted beans, cucs and strawberries, thirsty lettuces.  Irregular watering = funky shapes; too dry = bitter, production can stop.  Water seeds/seedlings daily.  If they dry out once, they’re dead.  Immediately after planting and watering your new little plant in, sprinkle on some Sluggo.  Sprinkle Sluggo just before your seedlings come up.  Tiny tender plants are irresistibly delicious!

Side dress/fertilize, especially if leaves are looking pale or your plant is puny or slowing down.  Blood meal for a quick fix, otherwise, compost, a little manure raked in, liquid kelp & fish emulsion mix.  Epsom salts for your peppers, once when they bloom and again ten days later. Go very gently with beans, tomatoes and strawberries.  These are not leaf crops, you want fruit!  Too much N (nitrogen), and you get a lot of leaf, little production.  If your planting bed was too rich or you over fertilized, bee bop on out to Island Seed & Feed (if you are in the Santa Barbara CA area) and pick up some Seabird Guano (NOT Bat Guano!).  The Seabird Guano is high in phosphorus, promotes healthy root growth, greatly increases the number of flowers, increases the available phosphorus in the soil and enhances beneficial bacteria activity in the soil!  It is good to use generally just before your plants flower or you see the first flowers!  This inexpensive treatment is a wonder!  Imagine how many beans, strawberries….Yes! 

Now plant heat tolerant and slow bolting varieties of cilantro, and lettuces – Nevada, Sierra, Jericho, Slobolt, Black Seeded Simpson.  Bolting, a natural maturing phenomena – the center of the plant shoots up and forms flowers, is caused by accumulated light hours, warm temps, and water stress.  Another thing to find is varieties that are leaf tip burn resistant.  Might plant them under a bit of a canopy or in the shade of a larger plant?  As your big plants get up, clear the lowest leaves and tuck some lettuce or dandelion greens underneath?

Harvesting is not just for food!  Just like deadheading flowers, when you harvest, they keep coming!  Eat little zuchs flowers and all!  Pull beans and cucs continuously while they are young and tender.  No storing on the vine, or you plant will think it is done!  Continue to harvest your broc side shoots.  Once it goes to flower (they are edible – sprinkle them on your salad!), no more side shoots.                                                      

* * Plant special flowers, herbs, or veggies for summer Hostess gifts!  Friends getting married in June?!  Why not give them plants for their new garden together?!  How symbolic!  Plant a little extra all the time for ready gifts for any occasion!  

 

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